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which it cannot be allowed even to the dramatic poet. Thus, for instance, he does not lightly let slip an opportunity of bringing his personages into a sudden vain panic; his old men are everlastingly bemoaning the infirmities of age, and, in particular, they totter up the steps from the orchestra to the stage, which were frequently used to represent the slope of a hill, sighing at the fatigue. He always wants to be pathetic, and for this he not only violates propriety, but sacrifices the coherence of his work. He is strong in his pictures of misfortune, but he often claims our compassion, not for inward pain of mind, or at any rate for a sustained and manly endurance of pain, but for mere bodily wretchedness. He delights in reducing his heroes to beggary, makes them suffer hunger and want, and come upon the stage with all the outward signs of it, clad in rags and tatters, for which Aristophanes so pleasantly takes him to task in the “ Acharnians."
Euripides had frequented the schools of the philosophers : (he was a disciple of Anaxagoras; not, as many have erroneously said, of Socrates, with whom he was only connected by acquaintance :) hereupon he indulges his vanity in making perpetual allusions to all sorts of philosophemes; in my opinion, in a very imperfect manner; for one would never learn the doctrines from his expressions, unless one knew them beforehand. For him it is too vulgar to believe in the gods after the simple manner of the people; he therefore takes every opportunity of insinuating something of an allegorical interpretation, and would have us know that his own piety is, to say the truth, of a very equivocal complexion. We may distinguish in him a twofold personage : the poet, whose works were dedicated to a religious solemnity, who stood under the patronage of religion, and therefore was bound in his turn to honour it; and the would-be-philosopher sophist, who studied to overlay those fabulous marvels of religion from which he derived the subjects of his plays, with his own sceptical and liberalizing opinions. While he is shaking the foundations of religion, on the other hand he plays the moralist: to make himself quite popular, he applies to heroic life maxims which held good only for the social relations of his own times.
He scatters right and left a multitude of moral apothegms, in which he incessantly repeats himself, and which are mostly trite, and not seldom fundamentally false. With all this parade of morality, the scope of his works, and the impression they produce on the whole, is sometimes very immoral. There is a pleasant anecdote of his having introduced Bellerophon with a vile encomium on wealth, in which he preferred riches to all domestic joys, and at last said, “ If Aphrodite (who bore the epithet golden) be indeed glittering as gold, she well deserves the love of mortals :” which, it is said, so revolted the audience, that they raised a great outcry, and would have stoned both actor and poet ; but Euripides sprang out, and called to them, “Only wait for the end, it will go with him accordingly.” So, it is said, that when he was reproached for making his Ixion talk altogether too horribly and blasphemously, he justified himself by saying, he “ended the play, however, by binding him round the wheel.” But even this shift of poetical justice, to make up for represented villany, is not available in all his tragedies. The wicked not unfrequently come off free, lies and other villanies are openly taken under protection, especially when he can manage to palm them upon some supposed noble motive. So likewise he has very much at command that seductive sophistry of the passions, which can lend a plausible semblance to every thing. The following verse is notorious for its excuse of perjury; seeming, in fact, to express the reservatio mentalis of the casuists :
ή γλώσσ' ομώμοχ', ή δε φρών ανώμοτος. Taken in its context, indeed, this verse, for which Aristophanes assails him with such manifold ridicule, may be justified: but the formula, for all that, is a good-for-nothing one, on account of the possible abuse in the application. Another verse of Euripides, “For a kingdom, it is worth while to do wrong; in other cases, it is well to do right,” was frequently quoted by Cæsar, with the like purpose of making a wrong use of it.
Euripides was reproached even by the ancients with his seductive allurements to sensual love. For instance, it must excite disgust, when Hecuba, to induce Agamemnon to avenge her on Polymestor, reminds him of the joys he has received from Casandra, his captive concubine: she would purchase revenge for a murdered son, at the expense of the avowed and approved degradation of a living daughter. This poet was the first to make the wild passion of a Medea, the unnatural
lust of a Phædra, the main subject of his dramas: whereas it is easy to conceive from the manners of the ancients, why the passion of love, which among them was much less dignified by tender feelings than among ourselves, occupies but a subordinate place in the older tragedies. Notwithstanding this importance which he attaches to the female characters, he is notorious for his hatred of women; and it is not to be denied that he brings forward a multitude of moral sayings on the frailties of the female sex, and the superiority of the male, together with many observations drawn from the experience of domestic life : with all which he perhaps thought to make his court to the men, who formed a considerable part, if not the whole, of his public. We have on record a sarcastic expression of Sophocles', and an epigram by him, in which he attributes the pretended misogymy of Euripides to his experience of their seducibility in the course of his own illicit amours. In Euripides' delineation of female character one may observe much susceptibility even for the higher charms of female modesty, but no genuine esteem.
The independent freedom in the treatment of the fables, which was one of the privileges of Tragic Art, in Euripides frequently degenerates into unrestrained caprice. It is well known that the fables of Hyginus, which vary so much from the common mythology, are in part extracts from his plays. As he often overthrew all that was hitherto known and usual, there consequently arose a necessity for his prologues, in which he notifies the posture of affairs, upon his assumption, and announces what course they are now to take. Lessing, in his “ Dramaturgy," has expressed the singular opinion, that this betokens an advance in Dramatic Art, seeing that Euripides trusted wholly to the effect of situations, without reckoning upon the tension of curiosity. But I cannot see why the uncertainty of expectation should not have its place among the impressions which a dramatic poem aims at producing. As for the objection, that in this respect the poem would only please the first time, because when we are once acquainted with the whole we know the termination beforehand, it is easily dismissed : if the representation be truly powerful, it will so rivet the spectator every moment, that what he before knew he again forgets, and is excited to an equal stretch of expectation. Moreover, these
prologues make the openings of Euripides' plays very monotonous; it looks very inartificial for a person to come forward and say, “I am such an one; so and so has already happened, and what comes next is as follows.” One might liken this method to the labels proceeding from the mouths of the figures in old paintings, which nothing but the quaint simplicity of style can excuse. But then the rest should correspond, which is by no means the case in Euripides, whose personages speak in the newest mode of the day. In his prologues, as well as in his denouements, he is very liberal with unmeaning appearances of the gods: gods, whose only elevation above mankind consists in hanging aloft in a machine, and who might certainly be well spared.
It was the practice of the elder tragedians to combine all together in great masses, and mark off the more quiet and the more excited parts of the dialogue in strong contrast: the speeches breaking off, where the parley or debate becomes more agitating, from their usual tenor into an alternation of single verse and verse, in which frequently question and answer, objection and refutation, accusation and recrimination, whiz from side to side like arrows. This method of contrast Euripides carries to excess. One-while, to make the dialogue animated as he thinks, he spins out his monostichs to an immoderate length, and in so arbitrary a manner that one half of his lines might be left out and nobody miss them: another-while you shall have him dilating himself into interminable harangues, where he sets himself to show off his rhetorical powers in clever argumentations or pathetic effect. Many scenes in this poet have quite the form of a law-proceeding, where you have two persons as parties in the suit wrangling with each other, or pleading before a third person as judge, not confining themselves to the matter in hand, but fetching as wide a reach as possible, impeaching their opponent and justifying themselves, and that, with all the adroitness of bar-pleaders, and not seldom with the windings and subterfuges of pettifogging sycophants. Thus he sought to make his poetry entertaining to the Athenians by its resemblance to their daily favourite employment of pleading or trying causes of law, or at least hearing them tried. On this account Quintilian specially recommends him to the young orator, who (says he) may learn more from the study of this poet than from the elder tragedians; which no doubt is correct in its way. But such a recommendation, it is clear, is no great commendation : for although eloquence may have its place in the Drama, provided that it come within the capacity of the supposed speaker and that his aim require it, yet to put rhetoric in the place of the simple and straightforward utterance of the feelings is any thing but poetical.
Euripides' style of writing on the whole is too little condensed, though it contains occasionally very felicitous images and ingenious turns: it has neither the dignity and energy of the Æschylean, nor the chaste gracefulness of the Sophoclean style. In his expressions he often affects strangeness and singularity, but presently relapses into commonness; the tone of the discourse often becomes very familiar, and descends from the elevation of the Cothurnus to the level ground. In this respect, as also in the approximation to the ludicrous in his manner of describing many characteristic peculiarities (for instance, the awkward carriage of the infatuated Pentheus in his female attire, the voracity of Hercules, and his boisterous demands on the hospitality of Admetus), Euripides is a precursor of the New Comedy, towards which he manifestly verges, in that under the name of the heroic age he often depicts existing reality. Menander has even expressed a distinguished admiration for him, and declared himself his scholar; and of Philemon we have a fragment full of such extravagant admiration, that it seems almost meant in joke. “If the dead,” says either he, or one of his characters, “ had indeed any feeling, as some people think they have, I would hang myself to see Euripides.” To this veneration on the part of the latter comedians, the sentiments of the elder comedian Aristophanes, his contemporary, form the most striking contrast. This poet unweariedly and inexorably persecutes him : he was, one might say, ordained to be his perpetual scourge, that none of his extravagances in morals and art might go unpunished. Although Aristophanes, as a comedian, stands in the relation of a parodist to the tragic poets in general, yet he no where attacks Sophocles, and even where he lays hold of Æschylus on that side of his character which certainly may excite a smile, his veneration for that old master is evident, and he every where contrasts his gigantic vastness with the petty delicacy of Euripides. In him he has exposed